Versatile Vargas will be asked to do many things in 2024


Age on Opening Day 2024: 32

How acquired: Signed as minor league free agent, May 2022

MLB service time: 4 years, 7 days

2023 salary: $975,000

Contract status: Signed for 2024, arbitration-eligible in 2025, free agent in 2026

2023 stats: 86 G, 286 PA, 262 AB, 32 R, 66 H, 13 2B, 2 3B, 4 HR, 31 RBI, 1 SB, 1 CS, 19 BB, 20 SO, .252 AVG, .304 OBP, .363 SLG, .666 OPS, 84 OPS+, 4 DRS (at 3B), 1 DRS (at 2B), 0 DRS (at SS), -1 DRS (in LF), 0.7 bWAR, 0.1 fWAR

Quotable: “On a professional and a personal level, I’m very happy to be coming back. I haven’t had an easy career, bouncing around. Even as far as six, seven years ago, I was in independent ball, didn’t know what my future was. But I’m very happy and grateful for the Washington Nationals to keep giving me this opportunity to be part of the team. I’ll help out any way that I can, and I’m excited to come back next year.” – Ildemaro Vargas, via interpreter Octavio Martinez

2023 analysis: An out-of-nowhere surprise in 2022, Vargas joined the Nationals organization in May after being designated for assignment by the Cubs. He was called up from Triple-A Rochester after Ehire Adrianza was traded to the Braves and impressively filled the utility infielder role the rest of the way, with surprising pop at the plate and smooth defense at multiple positions.

The Nats were banking on Vargas duplicating those feats over a full season in 2023. They did see him continue to excel in the field, especially at third base, where he delivered 4 Defensive Runs Saved in only 37 games started. But his performance at the plate dipped.

Despite a few hot streaks in May and September, Vargas’ offensive numbers were down across the board, though not dramatically so. He did draw more walks but just didn’t seem to have the same knack for delivering in big moments late in games as he did the previous year.

In the field, Vargas did everything the Nats needed from him, and more. He started 37 games at third, 12 games a piece at second base and shortstop and six games in left field (a position he had played only once in the big leagues prior to this season). He even pitched twice in blowouts and tossed a 1-2-3 inning July 1 against the Phillies.

2024 outlook: Eligible for arbitration for the second of three times, Vargas decided not to wait until the winter and actually agreed to a 2024 contract during the season’s final week. (Terms have yet to be revealed, though he stands to make at least $1 million.) The move caught many by surprise, but he made it clear he’s happy here after a nomadic career prior to 2022 and is more than willing to hold a veteran bench role moving forward.

That will be the Nationals’ intention. Though the identity of their Opening Day 2024 third baseman is an open question, Vargas won’t (or at least shouldn’t) be the choice. They recognize they’re far better off with him as a utility man who plays when needed but not on a daily basis.

Ultimately, the Nats would like to see a little more offensive production out of Vargas, certainly in situations of consequence. Too often this year he came up to bat late in a game with runners in scoring position and didn’t deliver. They don’t need him to be an above-average hitter; they just need him to be counted upon to provide a quality at-bat in meaningful situations while continuing to be a steadying presence in the field at multiple positions.

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